Not long after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was impeached and suspended from his duties, four high-profile Houston lawyers were named to prosecute and defend the case — Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin are spearheading the prosecution, while Dan Cogdell and Tony Buzbee are helming the defense.
Their paths have crossed many times before, sometimes while representing codefendants and other times in contentious cases with no shortage of media attention on the claims and personalities involved.
Hardin declined to comment for this story, but the other three attorneys recently spoke about their courtroom matchups in interviews with The Lawbook. DeGuerin, Cogdell and Buzbee discussed their experiences working with or against the others, and they dished out plenty of compliments about each other’s legal abilities.
For DeGuerin, the impeachment trial will mark his first team-up with Hardin, whom he battled against early in their careers when Hardin was a prosecutor at the Harris County district attorney’s office and DeGuerin — who is roughly the same age as Hardin but began his legal career earlier in life — was growing his reputation as a top-notch defense attorney.
Hardin and DeGuerin were on opposite sides of a case that ended with the impeachment of federal judge Sam Kent, who resigned from his bench in the Southern District of Texas, Galveston Division, in 2009 after he was sentenced to 33 months in prison for obstruction of justice.
Kent was indicted in August 2008 on two counts of abusive sexual conduct and one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of an employee. His conviction stemmed from false testimony he gave to an investigative committee appointed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that was looking into the misconduct claims.
Kent was represented by DeGuerin, while Hardin represented one of his accusers. But the duo never appeared in court against each other in that case.
Speaking of impeachment, Hardin was hired by the Texas House in 2013 to investigate Wallace Hall, who was then a regent at the University of Texas, for alleged misconduct amid a push to impeach him. DeGuerin was retained by Hall to defend against the claims.
Hall was censured but not impeached.
“I’ve known Rusty for a long time,” DeGuerin said. “We get along very well.”
Currently, DeGuerin and Hardin are representing codefendants in a federal wire fraud case that’s set to go to trial before U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in January.
Hardin is representing Anthony Hutchison and DeGuerin is representing Brian Busby. Busby, the former chief operating officer of the Houston Independent School District, and Hutchison, an HISD contract vendor, were indicted in December 2021 on charges that they conspired to engage in a bribery scheme.
Both have pled not guilty.
DeGuerin has also handled cases where he and Cogdell were representing codefendants in complex litigation.
Thirty years ago, DeGuerin was representing Branch Davidian David Koresh when he recruited Cogdell to represent one of Koresh’s followers, Clive Doyle, in the criminal trial that followed the Waco siege and fatal fire.
“I’ve known Dan since he was a baby lawyer,” DeGuerin said. “He’s a fine lawyer, a great defense lawyer. During the standoff and before the tragic fire and so forth, I was looking all around for lawyers who would represent people who would be charged later on. Dan was at the top of the list of people I contacted.”
“I’ve never had anything against or with Buzbee,” DeGuerin told The Lawbook. “I’m familiar with him, of course. You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to be.”
Cogdell also told The Lawbook the Paxton case is the first time he’s handled a case with or against Buzbee, though he’s spent months at trial both with and against DeGuerin and Hardin.
“There’s no other way to describe Dick and, frankly, Rusty: They’re my idols,” Cogdell said. “If I were charged with something, they’d be the first or second call. I’ve literally spent years in the courtroom with both of them.”
Cogdell described DeGuerin as “not a social animal.”
“People think of him as stuck up or arrogant. He’s not. He’s actually kind of quiet,” he said. “He has a good sense of humor, but he likes to be on the giving end of that and not the receiving end of that. He’s a brilliant lawyer, and his legacy is one that you just don’t see. He’s iconic.”
Cogdell and Hardin forged a friendship more than 25 years ago, when what should have been a six-week federal criminal insurance fraud trial against five employees of Spring Shadows Glen mental hospital stretched into a six-month trial. Cogdell and Hardin were the defense attorneys on the case that ended in a mistrial.
“Rusty is probably my best friend with a bar card,” Cogdell said. “I love the guy.”
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Cogdell and Hardin teamed up again to defend executives at Arkema Inc. who were criminally charged by the Harris County DA’s office. After the Crosby, Texas, facility was inundated by flood waters, it set off a chain reaction that ended with the ignition of several trailers containing organic peroxide that burned for days.
They beat back those charges without the case even getting to a jury — Judge Belinda Hill ended the case by granting a directed verdict, finding the prosecution failed to present enough evidence for the jury to find the executives guilty.
“We were just outraged at what [Harris County DA] Kim Ogg did and the tactics they used,” Cogdell said.
In the two dozen civil suits brought by women accusing former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexually assaulting them during private massages, Buzbee represented the accusers while Hardin represented Watson.
All but one of the cases involving Hardin and Buzbee has settled. An additional case, brought by another lawyer, also still is pending.
The intense attention on the case was fed in part by dueling press conferences between Hardin and Buzbee that highlighted their different strategies and by their vocal criticism of the tactics used by the other side.
“Because the Deshaun Watson thing was so widely publicized, I think several different defendants who I sue quite routinely have hired [Hardin’s] firm to try and beat me back,” Buzbee said. “I’ve known Rusty for, obviously, a very long time, and he’s 30 years my senior. But I do understand and respect his abilities and his track record, and I guess there’s a few defendants who feel like they need him to try and fight me, and that’s flattering, I guess.”
Buzbee said he believes the reason lawmakers hired “Mr. DeGuerin and Mr. Hardin is because they know their [case] is weak.” Buzbee said he’s “always been a big admirer” of Hardin, DeGuerin and Cogdell.
“Dan and I have been friends for some time, he’s a guy I really like,” Buzbee said. “And I would expect that Dick DeGuerin, if I were closer to his age, he’d probably be a friend, too. And Mr. Hardin, of course, we’ve butted heads a lot. I’ve seen what he’s said about me and I find it quite amusing.”
“But there’s a constant theme throughout all four of us, which is we have a drive to do what we think is right and all have our own unique way of doing things,” he said.
Cogdell also provided his take on the relationship between Hardin and Buzbee.
“It shouldn’t be lost that Rusty and Tony just absolutely hate each other, I think an equal amount,” he said. “They just hate each other.”
He defended Buzbee, saying he’s “a bright guy” who is “invested in this case” and has “a thirst for details.”
“He’s divisive, but that’s by design, that’s not an accident,” Cogdell said. “He wants to hate or love you and doesn’t really care which it is. … I think Rusty believes I brought Tony in because it would get him off his game. That was Paxton’s choice to bring in Buzbee, and it is going to be interesting.”
The legal battle brewing in the Senate impeachment trial is a fight Cogdell said he’s looking forward to.
“I’m a pretty vocal, passionate guy and I intend to hit both of them — if it’s warranted — in the face as hard as I can,” he said. “That’s my job. It won’t change my friendship with them, and I hope it doesn’t change their friendship with me.”
“Rusty doesn’t like trying cases against his friends,” Cogdell said. “I don’t mind. It’s gonna be fun.”
Paxton’s trial is set to begin no later than Aug. 28.